“Joe Six Pack.” You hear that term thrown around a lot these days, usually referring to politics and economics. We also hear it attached to the daily-fee golfer. I don’t like it. It’s demeaning and in just three words discriminates against about 75 percent of all golfers. Should we start calling the other 25 percent, those who play at private clubs, “Francois Merlot” golfers?
Like it or not, the golf world looks down — even if just a little bit — on the daily-fee, public golf facility and the golfers who play them. Which is ridiculous. There are three times as many public courses as private, and the vast majority of rounds are played on them. Publics and “munis” are the real connection to the spirit of the game.
Some people — and organizations — get it. It’s why the USGA takes the U.S. Open to the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in New York and Torrey Pines in California, along with occasional visits to the likes of Chambers Bay, Erin Hills and Pinehurst. The U.S. Open is supposed to be just that, open, and playing it on a course patronized the other 51 weeks by anyone with a credit card sends the right message.
I’ve noticed some snootiness among superintendents, with those who tend to private courses thinking less of their public-course brethren. Which is pretty funny. Is the soil under their fingernails laced with gold? Do they get higher-quality weeds? Are their mowers powered by magic dust? Are their golfers doing something besides using a stick to hit a ball into a hole?
If you work at a private club, I strongly suggest you head across town and see how the other half lives — and works. Then invite your crosstown peer back to visit your facility. You’ll both learn some things.
Golf cannot afford a public vs. private battle. We must work collectively for what benefits golf the most if we want to sustain the current boom. Sharing ideas will only accrue to the greater good.
The PGA of America does this well and has been doing so for years. Their members aren’t differentiated by the type of facility they work at. The same is true for our GCSAA. But, in both cases, I see members gravitating more and more to their “own kind.”
Let’s give credit where it’s due. Many daily-fee courses host a significantly greater number of rounds than nearby private clubs. They are set up to accommodate the bigger numbers and the common people, using the routing, conditioning and other features to get them around at a good clip while — and this is key — having fun.
Public courses won’t survive if they don’t show customers a good time, which surveys continually show means solid conditioning and a welcoming environment. Contrast that to the attitude of many private clubs, which appear set up to guarantee that members four-putt at least three times a round.
If you’ve already paid the private-club initiation fee and annual dues, how likely are you to walk away if the course is too hard? If the daily-fee patron thinks the course is too hard, they won’t return. Simple as that.
Now think about this: Who has the harder job?
Years ago, when I was overseeing the conditioning at five courses owned by the City of Miami Beach, I focused my energies and limited resources where they mattered most: on the greens, where roughly half of the strokes are taken. Golfers blame themselves for a shanked 7 iron. They blame the green for a lipped-out putt.
Today, as I travel the country, I look up daily-fee courses nearby and try them out. I get a good experience at a fair price. More important, I see what really matters to the person paying the green fees. It’s an important perspective to keep in mind no matter where we work.
I also think it’s going to be public courses that will show us the way to golf’s future. Take what’s happening in Southern California, where the Southern California Golf Association has seen a 25 percent increase in its affiliate club program — what we call “clubs without real estate.” There are now 800 of these independent clubs in SoCal bringing together like-minded golfers for fun, friendly competition and socialization, both on and off the course. That’s what golf should be about.
One Easter Sunday a few years back, I was in Texas and stopped at a public course to break up the drive. For $45, I got a hot dog, chips, a bucket of balls, a cart, nine holes of golf — and the course pretty much to myself. I had a great time, but what I remember most was a sign by the first tee that spelled out the course’s only rule: “Be Nice or Leave.”
Pretty good advice.